What the body forgets

What the body forgetsAbout ten years ago, I read a novel called What the Body Remembers by Indo-Canadian author Shauna Singh Baldwin. It was a cracking good story, set in the dying days of the Raj, about the splintering of a family — an allegory of India’s independence and subsequent partition.

But this is not a blog post about the book or its author, or even about India’s long and storied history; this is just a shameless rip-off of that wonderful title. Although Singh Baldwin was referring to the power of collective memory and the subconscious mind when she wrote it, my take is more literal: I’m thinking about the ways we expats adapt to our physical surroundings, and how we re-adapt once we move on.

Actually, I’m just moaning about the weather. It’s been sizzling these past few weeks, and the high humidity and lack of rain are only making things worse. Today the forecast at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is 38 degrees. I was a bit shocked to realize that’s hotter than it is in Singapore at the moment.

Yesterday I braved the heat to run a few errands, and after five measly minutes outside, my shirt was damp and my hair was plastered to the back of my neck. Acutely uncomfortable, I had a sudden flashback to my Singaporean look-see visit. Stepping out of the air-conditioned airport was like walking into a steam bath; it felt as though I’d been smacked in the face with a wet, heavy blanket.

It took me months to acclimatize to my sticky surroundings. The day my friend Kate and I realized we were sitting on the patio at Starbucks instead of automatically making a beeline for the chilled air inside, we gave each other goofy grins and felt like we belonged.

I remember it well. My body, however, does not. The heat is sapping me of energy and turning me into an aircon junkie. I’m frankly disappointed by my lack of fortitude — I lived in Southeast Asia for three years, and now an itsy-bitsy heat wave has me seriously concerned I might actually be melting.

How well did you adapt to your host country’s climate? What happened when you moved on?

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About Maria

I'm a Canadian repatriate, former expat spouse, mother to two TCKs (and one yellow Lab), mentor to new immigrants, writer, reader, world traveller (grounded for now). I write about expat/repat issues and am still trying to figure out my place in the world.
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25 Responses to What the body forgets

  1. Jaan Pehchaan says:

    Well – I will be heading in the reverse direction! From the current comfort to a “new” comfort!

  2. Hi Maria,
    It’s almost as hot in Toronto as it is in Dubai…and I was looking forward to a respite when I come home to Canada in a week’s time! I’ll never forget experiencing our first summer in Dubai (temps broke the 50c mark a couple of times). I kept thinking, at least I’m living in a climate where the temperature is hotter than my hot flashes so I won’t notice them as much!
    Bring on the fans!
    Anne 🙂

    • Maria says:

      The whole country’s burning up, except for BC and the Atlantic provinces, which are like chilly bookends. The good news is that things might have eased off a bit by the time you arrive. The bad news is what that will mean for your hot flashes. 🙂

  3. Bibsey Mama says:

    Hi, I am a new visitor and an English Expat melting under the sun in Southern Spain. I lived in HK for a couple of years a long while back, but as they say “that was a different type of heat”. How do I cope? I respect the siesta and never try to achieve anything between the hours of 2pm and 5pm.

    I love your ‘ugly expats’ post BTW. There’s something in there for everyone.

    • Maria says:

      Thanks for stopping by and getting me hooked on your blog! I love the siesta idea but I’ve decided to modify it a little: I won’t try to achieve anything between June and September. 🙂

  4. Crystal says:

    I think I’ve yet to adjust to Singapore. Partially the pregnancy makes me far more vulnerable to heat/humidity, but I’ve been laying low near the full blast air con in Singers for ages.

    • Maria says:

      I know what you mean, Crystal, and I feel for you. Being pregnant in that kind of heat is tough, especially when it never lets up. Keep on stalking the air conditioner — it won’t be much longer now.

    • bookjunkie says:

      don’t worry Crystal….I am not pregnant but I can’t take it without the air-conditioning either….I get grouchy when I’m hot. I’m like a human radiator 😉 Everyone around me is always so cold…it’s crazy! Some of them even wear sweaters!!

  5. Judy says:

    Ha, I know what you mean. Yahoo’s forecast temperature for today is the same in Dubai as Toronto. I just checked the Dubai Met Office website, but in typical Dubai fashion they give the date and current time in Dubai, but not the temperature. I am resolutely trying NOT to complain about the heat or make that standard Canadian comment “hot enough for ya?” I did hear one woman yesterday say cheerily “we shouldn’t complain, it’ll be winter soon enough” which is another classic. Only in Canada, eh?

    • Maria says:

      Did you have a power outage last night, Judy? Our power was off for about an hour and a half. All those air conditioners cranked up at once — too much for poor old Ontario Hydro.

      Despite the whinginess of this post, I don’t complain very often about the heat. Whenever I start to feel overcooked, I close my eyes and think of February. That usually does the trick!

  6. hanelene says:

    Oh my gosh – it’s broiling here in Washington too, and every time I go outside and open my mouth to complain I remember that I’m moving to Cairo next…

  7. bookjunkie says:

    Lived in Singapore my whole life and I hardly sit outdoors unless there’s a sea view. Even if it’s night time I head for the air-conditioning or else I melt 😉

    • Maria says:

      I’ve read that on your blog and it always makes me smile. I remember seeing Singaporean women walking around in boots and jackets in the fall, and thinking it must be because they’re immune to the heat after a lifetime of getting used to it. You’ve proved that theory wrong!

  8. expatriababy says:

    Although I’m a Canadian, I’ve been living in Asia for 6 years and am back in Canada (actually Toronto right now) for a “break” from the heat. Believe me, the irony is not lost.
    Anyway, I have a personal policy; one can only complain about one temperature extreem, and I chose cold. Because I hate it so. And though I might be sweating buckets, you’ll never hear a peep out of me. But anything below 12 degrees and I moan woefully.

    • Maria says:

      As a card-carrying member of the Cold-Haters Club, I applaud your policy and will stop whining. (Actually, now that the heat wave has passed and it’s a balmy 28 degrees outside, I’ve lost the will to whine. Life is good again!)

  9. Sine says:

    I was pregnant in Singapore too and well remember the stifling heat. You’re absolutely right, but not only your body forgets, your mind does as well. What I wouldn’t give for some nice Singaporean humid heat at the moment, freezing my butt off in Johannesburg where it’s winter and the heating gas has run out…

    • Maria says:

      I was one of those people who assumed Africa was always hot, until I started reading your blog. I wish I could siphon off a bit of our heat and send it to you!

  10. Have been watching news of the heat wave that’s hit Canada and the US. I feel for you because when it gets that hot, there isn’t much to do except survive indoors somewhere cool. As I suspected, our exceptionally lovely, sunny April/May/June has been replaced by the wettest month on record. Cooler temps rolled in as if it’s fall. I monitor the sky and dash out (usually with Oli in tow) whenever it’s clear. When the sun comes out, I do a happy dance. (Outdoors of course) Hang in there.

  11. Janet says:

    I’m a native Texan who grew up in aircon and can’t sleep without it in the summer. I’ve lived in Munich, Germany and now am in the Copenhagen area in Denmark and have struggled with the rather short but still frustratingly hot summer days without any aircon. I have yet to be able to sleep with the window open. It’s just not something one does in Houston due to major bugs coming in as well as the security issue. It is a mind-over-matter challenge for me. During the day I am able to deal with it, but the nights are still difficult. Thankfully the hot days are low in numbers compared to Texas summers so I tell myself I can’t complain. The winters though are a completely different thing. My body craves the sun on the short grey days and the long dark nights that start in the afternoon here in Denmark. I try to find happiness and peace in the winter beauty of snowflakes and building snowmen with my children. You have to choose to be happy — bask in the sunshine when it comes, take vitamin D when it doesn’t, and change your bed cover depending on the seasons!

    • Maria says:

      I feel the same way about sleeping with the window open. We have fine mesh screens over our windows to keep the bugs out, and I don’t worry so much about security in my bedroom since it’s on the second storey and has no trees close by for access. But I’ve stayed in places with unscreened windows, and I’d rather bake than have to listen to the annoying whine of a hungry mosquito whizzing around my head. Right now, I’m basking happily in the sunshine and slathering on the sunscreen. Summer doesn’t last long in these parts, so you have to squeeze every moment of it while it’s here. 🙂

  12. gkm2011 says:

    Maria – Just linked to your blog from expatriababy. I am based in Shanghai and just went to Singapore for business. Singapore felt absolutely cool compared to the heat we had in Shanghai over the last two weeks so I imagine it is all relative!

    • Maria says:

      Everything is relative! I hear the heat in Shanghai is unbearable in the summer. Today in Toronto the temp is forecast at 27 degrees — I think that’s just about perfect so I’m done with complaining. 🙂

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